Friday, June 7, 2013

Requiem for Fenway

Fenway Center. Sounds like a dirge.

Sometimes, when the end is near, you can just tell. And when I first heard the words “Fenway Center” I heard a death knell to Fenway Park, two virulent cells that when paired together marked the start of a massive metastasizing cancer. Over the next decade or two it will slowly eat away at the ballpark until Fenway Park reaches its final stage, a tombstone masquerading as a hotel or some similar other monstrosity.

First the details: Fenway Center is a $500 million dollar (which probably means $1 billion with cost over-runs) multi-use development (AKA “buildings for the wealthy”) of parking garages (wherefore art thou, Frank McCourt?), retail space (more Au Bon Pains!) and over 500 apartments (10% of which will be “affordable,” which means you’ll never see the inside of the other 90%, presumably the “unaffordable”), in five buildings, some of which will be built atop the Mass Pike. According to developer John Rosenthal, “This project is going to transform ugly, underutilized lots and windswept bridges into a vibrant new neighborhood. “ In other words, it’s gonna make a lot of people rich and inconvenience almost everyone else. 

Me? I’ve always kind of liked ugly, underutilized lots and windswept bridges, particularly those around Fenway Park. It meant that more of Fenway was visible. As ballparks go, Fenway is squat, but from certain vantage points it was still possible to see almost the entire park. And I’ve always loved the way it fit the decaying old quasi-commercial area of laundries and garages and cheesy nightclubs. But no more. They’ve already made the park itself a playground for the wealthy; now they’re running down the rest of the neighborhood. Fenway Park is just a prop for profit.

Even the name is wrong. Future Bostonians erroneously will come to think of “Fenway Center” as, you know, the “center” of the Fenway even though Fenway Center is, technically, not even in what has traditionally been considered “the Fenway” at all. No matter—nothing stops progress. Besides, I admit that “Ugly Center,” “Windswept Center” and “Underutilized Center” just don’t sound right, although personally, I am kind of partial to the accuracy of “Ugly Underutilized Windswept Center.” That’s the kind of neighborhood I always used to look for, because that was the kind of neighborhood I could afford to live in. Hell, when I first moved to Boston, that pretty much described the whole city, which, along with a gloriously rundown Fenway Park, is why I came here in the first place.

However, the most insidious impact of “Fenway Center” will be invisible—at least for a while. The development will make the rest of the land around Fenway Park, heretofore known as “properties,” worth even more, and you know what that means: enough is never enough. Much of this land is owned by the Red Sox and the temptation to exploit it will be impossible to resist. After all, by then, it will be the last ugly, underutilized windswept center in the area. In another decade or so I suspect that Fenway Park will begin to look like the courtyard at the Boston Public Library, a little tiny oasis full of pigeons, surrounded by granite and sullen workers. The team will celebrate the day actual sunlight reaches the field each season like the summer solstice at Stonehenge, complete with (yet another) surprise appearance by Neil Diamond. 

And someday soon, someone–perhaps a particularly well-connected real estate developer– will wake up one morning, look around, bat her eyelashes and say “Honey, why don’t we …” The next thing he knows the breakfast silver will be on the floors and he’ll be looking at a big fat roll of architectural drawings for “Historical Fenway Park Heritage Memorial Field of Dreams Center Plaza.” 

Oh, they won’t tear the historic little bandbox down. The Green Monster will form the backdrop to another Au Bon Pain, the Pesky Pole will be used as a flagpole on the roof, the historic trough urinals will be taken out of storage and used as planters, and they’ll offer you the opportunity to buy back your commemorative brick, but you get the idea. There will be a 30-story megamulticomplex rising above the footprint and a commemorative Whiffle Ball field on the roof available for corporate rentals and photo-ops with poor kids. And they’ll build another ballpark—somewhere. After all, there’s only one Fenway and you only get this kind of opportunity once.

Glomming on, it’s the new American pastime.

 (This column first appeared in Boston Baseball June 2013)

Glenn Stout really did move to Boston because of Fenway Park and the abundance of slum housing. He is the author of many books, including the award-winning best-seller Fenway 1912, and edits the award winning SBNation Longform page. For more see @GlennStout



  1. A great post — I'd expect nothing less from Glenn.

    As you might know, Wrigley Field is going to something similar in the near-future — the Ricketts family is going to redo the stadium and a lot of the surrounding area. The Tribune seems fairly unimpressed with the concepts, at this point:

    I'm of two minds about this. I've been going to Wrigley all of my life, and I think I take its charm for granted. Compared to the soulless Comisk... errr, U.S. Cellular on the south side, Wrigley is positively heavenly. But with that charm brings a lot of issues: The park has a certain... aroma. The food selections aren't great because there isn't a lot of room for good kitchens. (Which also damns us to — horrors! — mediocre beer.) And so on.

    Also, I think it's kind of presumptuous for people to say, "You have to keep Wrigley the way it is!" Actually, the owners don't HAVE to do anything. They could raze it and put up The Astrodome, Pt. II. They could move the team to Rosemont. There is some element of a public trust here, but in the end it's a privately held business and they're under no obligation to do anything. If they want to put up a Jumbotron, it's within their right.

    My issue is this: I haven't seen a lot of imagination from the Cubs. Here's what I mean: You've undoubtedly seen the video of the Boston Marathon tribute at Fenway Park after the bombing. It was a beautiful montage set to Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah." That was fucking gorgeous, smart, and awesome. If the Cubs were to do something like that, they'd bring out some policemen/firemen who were there and play "America, The Beautiful." Do you see what I mean?

    The relevant line in the Tribune article is this: "Why do something banal when you could do something amazing?" I don't see "amazing" happening at Wrigley Field. That's what troubles me the most.

  2. The thing with so much of what they've done with Fenway though, is so faux - it's like Ye Olde Fenway. I would hope the Cubs, if they have to do anything, do it better.